Francois Vézina

I am a Professor of ecophysiology at the Université du Québec à Rimouski, Québec, Canada. My team’s research focuses on reversible physiological adjustments that allow birds to face environmental constraints. More precisely, we study physiological mechanisms helping birds to deal with challenging periods such as cold winters, migration and reproduction. I am particularly interested by phenotypic transitions occurring during changes of life-history stages.

From 2004 to 2008 I had the privilege to work with Theunis as a postdoctoral fellow at the NIOZ Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research. This was a very fun and productive period in my career which greatly influenced my thinking and my way of doing science. My work at NIOZ, which continues to this day through papers written in collaboration with Theunis, focussed on energetics, thermal acclimation and seasonal cycles in Red Knots. I was interested in how these birds adjust their phenotype to deal with winter conditions. This research also led to the opportunity to study knots right after their arrival on their Arctic breeding ground at the Canadian Forces Station Alert on Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, Canada. The period of transition between migration and breeding seems critical for these birds and involve significant physiological changes at a time where food resources can be scarce and thermoregulation costs can be very high. It is definitely a very interesting time.

Red Knots just arrived from their migration - less than a day before the photo was taken - and recovering from the flight (they actually arrived during a blizzard). Photo: François Vézina

As a professor, my recent work on thermal acclimation focussed mostly on passerine birds, such as black capped chickadees. My lab is equipped with facilities, very much inspired from those developed by Theunis at NIOZ, to work on captive birds in thermal chambers and outdoor conditions. There, my students and I are studying phenotypic transitions in another amazing bird, the snow bunting. We study its capacity to endure extreme cold and its remarkable ability to migrate through a wintery landscape and deal with an even harsher environment when it arrives on its Arctic breeding ground, up to a month before breeding. The phenotypic changes occurring in both snow buntings and shorebirds during the important transition between migration and breeding in the High Arctic is the main theme of our current work at Alert.

Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, Canada. Photo: François Vézina

Profile photo: Audrey Le Pogam.